In Italy, there is still no legislative framework for youth work, as a specific form of professional or voluntary activity aimed at young people. Nevertheless, a number of different youth work practices carried out mainly at the local level by the Third Sector can fall into the general category of youth work, as defined at European level.
In view of the growing interest about the evolution of youth work at European level, a national law for the recognition of youth work and youth workers is currently under discussion. In the context of the draft law, youth worker is translated as “Animatore Socio-educativo per i Giovani” (Socio-educational instructor for youth).
The youth work practices supported by the central Government mainly include centre-based youth work (i.e., open-access youth centres, youth information centres), outreach youth work, summer camps, and non formal educational provided to volunteers in the framework of the Universal Civic Service programme (see Chapter 2.4).
The legislative power regarding youth work mainly belongs to the Regions and Autonomous Provinces, in the framework of their laws on youth policies.
Nevertheless, in the last two decades a number of national measures have had an impact on the development of youth work at regional and local level. These measures are the following:
- the National Fund for Youth Policies (law 248/2006, art. 19);
- social and education policies for children and adolescents (law 285/1997);
- the socio-educational work with minors at-risk (law 328/2000, art. 22, c. 2, lett. c),
- the Universal Civic Service (legislative decree 40/2017 with specific reference to the work of local operators that support the educational and training experience of the young volunteers);
- the recognition of the socio-educational role of oratories by different religion (law 206/2003);
- the support of youth work activities by a range of national calls for projects (e.g., Youth for the valorization of public goods, Orientation and placement of young talents, Youth Camps etc.).
Since the 1980s, the European Union and the Council of Europe programmes for youth have contributed to the growth of a new generation of youth workers, who actively participate in the implementation of the European youth work strategy. In particular, it is worth mentioning: youth exchanges, transnational volunteering, the structured dialogue with policy makers, support to youth initiatives, transnational mobility of youth workers, strategic partnerships for youth work recognition, training events on youth work skills and competences. Last but not least, the active participation in the Third Youth Work Convention organized by the German Precedency of the EU and the Council of Europe in December 2020.
In recent years, the first informal and associative networks have been established among operators who recognize themselves as 'youth workers' from a European perspective (e.g., the network Youth Worker Italia, and the association NINFEA - National Informal and Non-formal Education Association).
Some regions (Campania, Piedmont and Apulia) have recently recognized the need for specific youth worker training measures at legislative level. The use of the word 'youth worker' in the Italian text of these regional laws denotes a specific interest to begin to frame this profile in the framework of European youth policies.
Examples of initiatives on youth workers’ training include “A new generation of Youth workers” (“Youth worker di nuova generazione”) by the Regional Youth Agency of Toscana (GiovaniSì), and a master dedicated to youth workers offered by the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples.
This process of discussion on the recognition of youth work from a European perspective is also open to organizations that have inherited socio-educational work traditions already present before the start in Italy of a public policy in the youth sector.
By number of young people involved and territorial spread, these traditions are represented mainly by educational work in Catholic oratories, Catholic Scout Associations (AGESCI) and non-confessional scout associations (Corpo Nazionale Giovani Esploratori Italiani - CNCEI) and the ARCI network of circles with their growing involvement in educational, social and cultural work involving children, adolescents and young people.
More systematic and in-depth research at territorial and national level would be desirable in order to draw a comprehensive and articulated mapping of youth work. The mapping could include other less well-known organisations, which continue to operate in continuity with educational innovation initiatives launched in the post-war period, as well as the huge sector of non-professional sports associations.